Green Thumb: Sports

Going, going … green?

Editor’s note: The Observatory is on “green” watch. Two weeks ago, on Earth Day, we launched Green Thumb, a new feature that will shout out sightings of the greening of America and welcome your picks and comments. Here’s our rating system:

•THUMBS UP: Eco-friendly
•THUMBS DOWN: Greenwashing

Professional and collegiate sports are looking a little green, and it has nothing to do with Fenway Park’s Green Monster or the golf course fairways. (Well, maybe it has a little to do with the latter.)

The new push for environmentally friendly stadiums, arenas, clubs, and teams has given journalists a rare opportunity: to use sports puns and environment puns in the same sentence. This week, The Observatory looks at how “green” is infiltrating even the sportiest of sports coverage.

THUMBS UP: Baseball In March, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig challenged teams to start thinking green, saying that “caring for the environment is inextricably connected to our game.” From San Francisco to Washington, clubs answered the call, setting up recycling programs, switching to light bulbs better for Mother Earth, even offering fans credits for clean, renewable energy for their homes.

Last Wednesday, the Philadelphia Phillies kicked off their “Red Goes Green” campaign. The event didn’t get much press, but the few items it inspired-a short piece on, an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, a blip on NBC’s Philadelphia station-were over-the-top praiseworthy of the team’s effort. But Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sandy Bauers’ article got it right, acknowledging the importance of, but not gushing over, the new initiative. Bauers’ piece also expertly explained to a non-science crowd that simply because the Phillies purchased enough renewable energy to cover their 2008 usage doesn’t mean that wind turbines will literally power the field.

Whether the efforts of Major League Baseball will pay off remains to be seen. Let’s just hope that as more teams go green, journalists don’t become trigger-happy with the puns, but rather follow the lead of reporters like Bauers who present the facts in an entertaining, educational way.

CARBON NEUTRAL: Basketball March Madness-the NCAA college basketball tournament-is an obsession for many sports reporters nationwide. But this year, ClimateWire (put out by E&E Publishing) jumped into the game. The effort, in the form of an article about which colleges have sustainable environment initiatives, didn’t go unnoticed. It’s a nice idea.

However, it reads more like a bulleted list than an article, making it easy for readers to lose interest quickly. On top of that, the piece doesn’t explicitly state the connection between the environment and the NCAA tournament. That’s a tough leap for readers to make themselves. Next year, rather than an inventory of the green efforts of every school in the tournament, perhaps ClimateWire could focus on one university whose effort stands out. That might have had a greater effect.

THUMBS DOWN: Golf Golf Digest hopped onto the environmental bandwagon with a long article, “How Green is Golf?”, in the May issue. The answer, apparently, is not very. The article is likeable insofar as it is highly critical of the fact that the sport has not improved its environmental record much despite thirteen years of “self-congratulatory hyperbole from the golf industry.” But it doesn’t get into a lot of the gritty details on land development, water use, fertilizer pollution, and habitat destruction that the links require.

The earnest reporting effort gives the piece a little credence. The writer, John Barton, talked to seven people he calls the “leading thinkers who reside at the intersection of golf and the environment” including a government regulator, a golf-course inspector, and a turf grass expert. These sources have some interesting opinions, but the article still lacks the hard-hitting timeliness that has been evident in other work, including The Bergen County, New Jersey, Record’s recent investigation of an environmentally sordid golf-course development in New Jersey.

Much worse than the Golf Digest piece is the rant that follows by senior writer Chris Baldwin. He should thank the golf magazine for giving him an impetus to yell. Instead, he criticizes the magazine’s piece. He calls the greening of golf a money-making scheme and a marketing gimmick, says that the sport is already green, and contends that people pushing this initiative are “loonies.” He seems to say, “Hey, golfers understand this whole green thing and we’re already on top of it.” Why, then, after thirteen years, is the community still talking about how to make the sport greener?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Michele Wilson is a freelance writer who lives in New York City.